Downtown today getting better and better

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 15, 2009

Vicksburg Main Street is marking 25 years. Not all have been good for the downtown development and promotional organization. But there have been more good than bad, especially the past eight or so. And while that’s worth celebrating, it’s also instructive.

In the late 1990s, the area that had been the heart of commerce since the city was founded in 1825 was in an advanced stage of decay. A few merchants subsisted during daylight hours, but almost nightly there were broken windows and other forms of vandalism. Weekends featured wandering drunks, rowdy mobs and gunfire. Police and city officials seemed reluctant or powerless to act.

Voters reacted to his campaign promises and elected Laurence Leyens mayor on his pledge to turn downtown around. He did, and he took a lot of heat for it. And, in addition to the infusion of tax money, private dollars returned.

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The annual report given last week by Main Street chairman Harry Sharp shows the incremental change continues. Net gains for 2008 were one new business and 17 more jobs. In addition to $2.28 million in public funds, much of that coming from the special property tax imposed in the area, there was more than $1 million in new private investment.

A boom? Not hardly. Continued progress in a time of extreme challenge for retailers? Yes. Definitely.

As Main Street turns 25, we must never forget how bad things can be. And we must recognize, as Sharp does, that the area will always remain a work in progress. It’s not the efforts of one person, one official, one grant, one group, one store or the events of one year that have made Downtown Vicksburg a place we’re proud to show visitors. The people who live in a community made a collective decision. Now we are seeing the results.